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How to Get Promoted When Budgets are Tight

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The post-COVID-19 situation may make things a little more challenging when it comes to securing a promotion, as there may be fewer opportunities to progress and more competition.

Conversely, opportunities invariably arise following a crisis so it is critical to be prepared for a number of eventualities.

By its nature, promotion is usually a competitive process, either with other internal or external candidates. We must always be mindful of the fact that the promotion in itself is only a milestone (albeit an important one) in one’s career which by definition is a marathon, not a sprint. So we must be strategic in positioning ourselves for promotion opportunities that may arise.

The purpose of this article is to give you a process to follow, enable you to prepare, and hopefully give you the confidence to have a constructive promotion discussion with your employer. 

In the spirit of focusing on what we can control we can prepare and do groundwork that will stand to us in the promotion process. First and foremost, review your personal brand. 

Develop your personal brand

In today’s competitive world you will want to stand out from the crowd and differentiate yourself from the competition. Ultimately, a strong brand will help you get noticed for the reasons for which you want to be noticed! If you do not think about your personal brand, you may end up with a “default brand” or be pigeon-holed in a manner that is not to your liking.

In developing your brand it is important that you are true to yourself and create an authentic brand image. Never be tempted to create a false persona, as this will open the risk of you being exposed as something of a fraud and in all likelihood induce stress at a later stage.

The first step in creating your brand image will centre on your self-awareness. People connect with people, not personas. People like to engage with authentic people who have values, hopes and fears like themselves. 

Build out your personal brand profile by answering the questions below:

  • What are your values?
  • What do you believe in?
  • What do you stand for?
  • What are you truly passionate about?
  • Where do you get your energy from?
  • What is it that gives you the most satisfaction?
  • What are your personality traits?

Take the time to carefully consider your answers to the questions above as your answers will form the bedrock of your brand image. Remember to be human, we all have vulnerabilities and needs – there is no need to have a brand that makes you out to be perfect. You want people to be able to relate to you, empathize with you and be inspired by your actions.

Build your network

Networking is the process of growing the number of people with whom you have a positive working or social relationship. Specifically, you would like the people in your network to think of you when they come across information that may be of use to you or hear of an opportunity and connect you with that opportunity. 

Networking is a two-way street, your value in the network is enhanced when you connect others to information that may be beneficial to them.

Networking is usually a long-term play, where you build relationships and facilitate connections. You may not be the short term beneficiary but by positively engaging with others you increase the likelihood of opportunities coming your way.

Your network acts like extra sets of eyes and ears for you, picking up information and identifying opportunities when you are not in the room. The bottom line is, many promotion opportunities and career enhancement are initiated or spread by word of mouth. With career opportunities in particular, the research indicates that in more than 50% of cases senior positions are likely to emerge through one’s network. Furthermore, many opportunities are never made public, that is, the potential “need” was fulfilled by someone known to the individual so the opportunity was never advertised.

Human nature is positively disposed to personal references or recommendations. It gives the person making the promotion decision a sense of comfort because they feel they can trust the source of the recommendation. They don’t feel they are dealing with a completely unknown quantity. 

In building your network you are looking to develop allies who will support you when the promotion opportunity arises. They may do this by making you aware of a possible opportunity or introducing you to a decision-maker who may have a suitable promotion opportunity. It is critical that you make your allies aware of the type of promotion opportunities you are looking for, be clear, be concise and be ambitious. Identify the key stakeholders who will make or influence the promotion decision and be sure that you have a relationship with those people.  Ensure they understand and appreciate the value of your contribution.

Engage your boss

Make sure that your boss is aware that you are ambitious and that you want to be considered for any appropriate promotion opportunities that may arise. Many people assume that their boss will know that they are ambitious but this is a dangerous assumption. Talk with your boss about any and all factors that may influence the likelihood of you getting a promotion. Specifically, keep the focus on what you can control:

  • What skills, competencies and behaviours do you need to display in order to achieve a promotion? 
  • Is your performance either already at the required level for promotion, or rapidly trending towards that level? Specifically, are you perceived to be performing at a higher level than your competition?
  • What else do you need to do to secure the promotion? E.g. take on additional responsibilities? 

Keep an inventory of your deliverables and the positive outcomes you deliver for the organization. Make sure key stakeholders are made aware of your achievements and the value that will accrue to them/the organization if they promote you.

Help your boss to help you. In many cases your boss may have to get approval for the promotion from other senior managers or directors, so provide them with the evidence to put forward a compelling case. If they will need to bring a business case to others for approval, draft it for them to make it easier – most of the content should be available to you if you keep an inventory of your deliverables and performance.

Be prepared to have your promotion request turned down.  Above all, it is important to always respond professionally. Be prepared for constructive criticism, then ask for specific reasons and feedback. Solicit support from your boss to explore ways to address these reasons and set a date for when you can reopen the discussion, e.g. in 3 or 6 months.

It is okay to express your disappointment in a neutral fashion with controlled emotion, but the key thing is to remember to respond professionally. It is important not to prove the decision-maker(s) right. If you react unprofessionally, those who made the decision will conclude they were correct as you are obviously not able to handle bad news or respond professionally when you don’t get your own way.

If a promotion is not forthcoming you could look for a “quasi” promotion. This may not be a promotion in the true sense of the word i.e. you may not get a pay increase or go to a higher level but it is a title change that will show progression on your CV and is a public recognition of your performance.

Tips, tricks and takeaways

Tone: Keep the tone of the conversation positive. Express why you are excited about working for the company, and how you see the company being successful in the long term.

Be constructive: A promotion discussion is rarely straightforward, it is likely that you may have to consider other perspectives, e.g. to justify the promotion you may have to take on new responsibilities or additional workload.

Get good advice: Promotion discussions can be a sensitive topic and should be handled discreetly. Identify a trusted advisor or mentor to help you with the process. 

For more practical insights on thriving in the work environment, see my book The Successful Career Toolkit or sign up for a virtual coaching session